Croatian soccer fans streaming into Moscow for Sunday’s World Cup final between Croatia and France are hoping their team can settle an old score with the French dating back to the 1998 tournament.
That year, Croatia’s World Cup dreams were cut short as France clawed back from a goal down in the semi-final to beat Croatia 2-1, going on to win the tournament.
“They owe us and they will pay us back,” said Drazen Karakasic, a 47-year-old banker from Zagreb, who was wearing his team’s jersey in Moscow.
A day ahead of the final, Croatians in red-and-white chequered hats waved national flags and chanted on a pedestrian street that has become popular with football fans in Moscow.
“They are fighting all the time,” Croatian fan Nikola Kresic said of his country’s soccer team.
“Maybe we don’t have the best team but they’ve got the biggest heart for sure.”
The success of Croatia, a country of 4.2 million, has come as a surprise even to some Croatians who have been scrambling to secure tickets for the final and flights to Russia. It has been a reunion of sorts for Croatians living in Moscow.
For Nicolas Grbac, who has not lived in his native Croatia since he left as a child in 1989 ahead of the violent break-up of Yugoslavia, the influx of fans from his homeland has made him feel at home.
“It’s really great for me because of all the people from my country, even from my hometown,” said Grbac, who works on the street most popular with fans. “It’s a big football party.”
There were fewer French fans visible in central Moscow on Saturday, though those present included dedicated supporters such as Akim Snouci from Paris who has been in Russia since the beginning of the tournament.
“I don’t think it will be a huge win (for France),” he said. “There are no small teams. I’ll be pleased if we win 1-0.”
Snouci said he had one regret: his presence at the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday means that he will not make it to the wild street celebrations that will erupt in Paris if France win.
“I won’t be at the gathering on the Champs-Elysees,” he said. “You can’t cut yourself in half.”